COOKING ADVENTURES #1: Pastitsio
Good Morning, readers.
So last night while attempting to make the Greek dish, Pastitsio, for the first time, I learned a few things:
1.) There are directions for a reason.
2.) Print out the directions so that you can keep them with you in the kitchen.
3.) Preparing ahead of time is a good thing.
4.) When you do read the directions, read them carefully.
5.) If you are an hour into the project and getting tired, don’t make the rest of it up as you go.
6.) DO NOT GET SIDETRACKED!
And that was how I failed to make Pastitsio correctly last night.
[WARNING: This is absolutely terrible. I don’t cook like this all the time… I swear!]
Here are the facts: I am not the best cook. I have dreams of one day improving my skills so that I can make something other than burned steak, frozen pizza, and powdered mashed potatoes for myself.
I came up with a plan on New Year’s. Make a different international dish at least once every two weeks. Then while blinded by that brilliant notion, I hastily decided to make Pastitsio on my first week. That was a bad idea. Why? Because it is not an easy dish for someone like me. I should have started out smaller, perhaps with a soup or an appetizer, something where I wasn’t using huge quantities of food. But I didn’t think before I did. It also didn’t help that I was sick and not really in the mood to spend a ton of time in the kitchen.
While listening to some French music, I sauntered into the kitchen like I was the next Julia Child and started browning the meat and boiling the water for the pasta. In my haste, I forgot to cut the onions ahead of time. As I pulled out one of my not-big-enough flexible cutting boards, I came to find out that my santoku knife had dulled. Needless to say, that didn’t make my chopping go very easily. Once that was over, I moved into the living room and stupidly, checked my facebook to see if anyone had commented on the status I posted five minutes ago. (Seriously, I need a life.)
Back in the kitchen, my meat browned quickly and the water was already boiling. Instead of checking the recipe to see how much pasta to put in, I emptied the whole box. THE WHOLE BOX. Then, I looked at the directions. Oops. 8 oz., you say. Oh well. There’s 16 oz. in the pot now. I guess I’ll have to double the recipe’s ingredients. But I didn’t do that either.
I read the directions. Tomato paste. What do I have? Four fresh tomatoes, still on the vine. Whatever. I cut two up. And I don’t cut two as much as I squished them into oblivion with a paring knife. Yes. I know. I found my tomato knife after the first tomato was demolished.
By this time, the pasta is boiling over. I dump the tomatoes in the skillet with the meat and turn down the heat on the back burner. I run back to the living room to check the directions. Salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and pepper. I have to look 3 times to make sure I get the correct measurements. [I have a laptop. The battery is about to die. I have to keep it plugged in to keep it running. It only has 14 percent life and won’t charge.]
The pasta is ready to drain… except, there’s no water left… because I didn’t use enough. In spite of that, the pasta isn’t stuck to the bottom of the pan so I check to see what I’m supposed to add to them. Milk. I measure out a third of a cup. Then I remember I have more pasta than the recipe. So I splosh some extra in as well. Parmesean cheese. I take the dried stuff that comes in a sprinkle container and dump a bunch of it in. A beaten egg. Ew. Butter. Dear Lord. The recipe tells me to use 4 tbsp. of butter. Suddenly, I feel like Paula Dean. (Realistically, if it was Paula Dean, there would be 4 sticks of butter in there). I add the 4 tbsp. reluctantly, and mix carefully. And yes, I forgot to double that. The pot is so full, the pasta is up to the rim. It takes me an extra 5 minutes to stir everything in because I have to do it so gently.
The meat is sizzling. I stir everything once more, noticing that its a bit more watery than I’d anticipated. I check the fridge and magically find some Prego tomato sauce. I dash some of that in there to thicken it up, stir it, and put the top back on.
Now I need to find a baking dish. I glance in my cabinet. I don’t own the required 11″x7″ baking dish. I have one about half that size and a giant 13″x9″ stoneware dish from Pampered Chef! I haul that monster out, and then pre-heat the oven to 350. (At least I remembered to do that… Hey… I saw that look!)
As I dump half of the pasta into the baking dish, I realize that within the recipe for the Pastitsio, there is also a recipe for the bechamel sauce. However, the person that posted the recipe on food.com didn’t break up the ingredients so that I’d know which things to put in what. I was supposed to have used some of the stuff from the pasta for the sauce. Wanting to beat myself with a spatula, I pour the soupy meat and tomato concoction over the noodles, and then the remainder of the noodles over the meat. There is just enough there to fill the dish!
Then I get that stupid thought; the one that says I can whip up that bechamel sauce easily and just dump it on top. It’ll be a cinch. Guess what? You guessed correctly.
Because I only own one pot, I used the pasta pot to create the frightening mixture. Two cups of milk, 5 tbsp. of butter (I nearly shriek as I put the remainder of the stick in), an egg (I cracked it into the hot milk… ‘cuz I’m smart… her, her). As it heats up on the stove top, I remember that its supposed to be a sauce. It should be thick. Therefore, add flour. The flour didn’t exactly mix as it transformed into thousands of tiny white balls that just floated around behind my spatula as I stirred furiously. After about ten minutes of that, I got angry. In the end, I dumped the “bechamel liquid” onto the pastitsio. It sank in and then rose up, until the casserole resembled a bog.
In the oven. Out of sight. For 40 minutes.
I collapsed on the couch and spent the time thinking how on Earth I was going to explain this in my blog. In short, the pastitsio was still edible. It was kind of bland [apparently I didn’t use enough butter!], but I still ate it and will continue to eat it for the next week and a half. Oh, joy.
Lesson learned. Start with something simple. Keep the directions in front of you at all times. And READ THEM!